National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
At war
Issue Date:  April 18, 2003

Peace activists seek return to Iraq to witness against war

Religion News Service

By turns angry, hopeful and a bit exhausted, a group of American, British and Canadian peace activists find themselves today in a kind of no man’s land -- stranded in neighboring Jordan, wanting to return to Baghdad to demonstrate what they believe is needed solidarity with the people of Iraq.

Whether or not they return to Iraq -- and that may prove difficult, foolish or even unnecessary, depending on what happens in Iraq in the coming days -- the battered activists believe they have seen enough to sound the alarm about a war they call catastrophic, immoral and wrong -- and which Iraqis they met described as an unwarranted and unwanted invasion by the United States.

“I wonder how many terrorists were born that day?” said activist Scott Kerr, recalling angry Iraqi reaction to a marketplace bombed by U.S. forces in the early days of the war, an act that seared his conscience with memories of moaning, wailing and the sight of body parts strewn on the pavement.

Kerr, 27, a United Methodist who lives in Chicago, was one of several activists who spoke to reporters April 5 at a modest Amman hotel following a week’s stay in Baghdad. The activists are members of Christian Peacemaker Teams. Working with the international campaign Voices in the Wilderness, they have formed a peace initiative to maintain what they say is “an ongoing presence in Iraq during the war” and be “a voice for the Iraqi people.”

The chaos of war has made that difficult.

“It’s hard to be a voice for the Iraqi people if you can’t get a phone line out,” said Stewart Vriesinga, 46, of Lucknow, Ontario. “But somebody has to work on healing these relationships.”

Alerting the world to what they had witnessed was deemed easier done in Jordan, which is one of the reasons why about half of the 30-strong group left Baghdad last week. Fourteen remain in Iraq.

While in Iraq, the activists -- who back home are often called unpatriotic or traitors -- were under close scrutiny by so-called Iraq government “minders,” and activists had occasionally run afoul of their escorts. A group of affiliated activists were expelled from Iraq in late March for taking photographs of war damage without asking permission.

That expulsion may seem ironic, given the passion the peace activists bring to the cause of speaking up for Iraqis affected by the war.

Take the case of Lucille “Sis” Levin, who teaches at the University of Alabama. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Levin, 71, can give an incredulous, withering stare to a reporter trying to distinguish the use of cluster, or fragmentation, bombs on civilians and military troops.

“They maim!” she said of the weapons she and others believe are being used by the United States in Iraq. “Those weapons are designed to maim! They shouldn’t be used at all.”

Levin said she was brought up to be a proper, well-bred Southern woman “who sings ‘Dixie.’ ” But the sometimes abrupt rhythms of history intervened: Her husband, Jerry Levin, a former CNN bureau chief in the Middle East and also a member of the peace delegation, was among the U.S. hostages held in Lebanon during the Reagan administration.

That experience changed her forever, making her question U.S. foreign policy. It has also made her impatient with fellow Americans she believes don’t see the underlying causes of the current conflict, which include a long history of American intervention in the Middle East.

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2003

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: